Alison Sofield - Collections Volunteer
In 1864, two enterprising English gentlemen, one a doctor, produced and manufactured a type of liquorice flavoured lozenge under the “Victory V” brand, based in Lancashire. These sweets were initially made by hand to ensure that each lozenge contained the correct amount of therapeutic ingredients: ether, liquorice and chloroform. Surprising ingredients indeed!
The company continued to produce these lozenges into the 1960s by which time they no longer contained ether or chloroform, but these flavours were popular and were replaced by synthetic flavouring and are still manufactured today.
I expect you are wondering how these items, which are essentially a cough drop can be connected to Whangarei Museum. The Museum holds a small collection of tin toys from the early Twentieth century. One interesting toy is a tin bus or charabanc with a painted exterior showing men and women of the 1920s enjoying a day out, a popular activity of the period. Further research threw up some doubt as to whether the tin bus was in fact a toy. The roof of the bus seemed to be removable so what could be inside? Well it was just a large empty space, how disappointing. But the reverse of the roof was a revelation. In gold lettering was written “Victory V Confectionary. Gums and lozenges for cold journeys. Victory Factories, Nelson, Lancashire.”
So this tin item that appeared to be a toy at first turned out to be a container for sweets and from the size of the bus, quite a large amount. This discovery led to other research about the evolution of tin used to contain food. This idea of using tin cans to hold perishable goods was supposedly created by Frenchman Phillipe de Girard. A patent was taken out in 1810 and the world’s first commercial cannery factory was established in London.
Manufacturers soon realised that these tin containers could be a vehicle for the advertising of their product as well as assuring their prospective customers of a high standard of quality. At first the cans were covered with paper labels but around 1895 a process was developed that allowed lithography to transfer images directly onto the tin, as in the bus pictured here.
Today the collecting of lithographed tins is hugely popular. A large variety of tin can shapes were produced, apart from the shapes we all recognize today ie. baked beans or spaghetti as well as the lovely circular tins of ‘Macintoshes Sweets’. The more unusual tins became receptacles for other uses such as trinket or sewing boxes. So, it is easy to see how our ‘sweets’ bus, once all the goodies were consumed, found a second life as a toy.